Melissa Chessher, chair of the Department of Magazine, News and Digital Journalism at the Newhouse School, has been named a 2021-24 Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence, and Carolyn Hedges, assistant professor of communications at Newhouse, is the recipient of a 2021-22 Teaching Recognition Award for Early Performance.
In two decades at the Newhouse School, Chessher has taught more than 100 courses to nearly 2,000 students, and has mentored as many or more. She was selected by Newhouse students for the Teaching Excellence Award early in her career, and remains popular among students today.
“Melissa Chessher represents the very best of the Newhouse School. Her dedication to our students and their success is remarkable,” says Newhouse dean Mark J. Lodato. “I am grateful that her outstanding teaching— something we’ve known for quite some time—is being recognized at the highest level at Syracuse University.”
Chessher, who serves as the faculty adviser for five campus publications, frequently teaches courses devoted to magazine article writing and the creation of multimedia projects. Student work for these classes has earned significant, national awards from Hearst, Broadcast Educators Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
In the past four years she has created industry partnerships with Time, LinkedIn, Bustle Media Group and Insider Inc. to diversify the industry through the creation of fellowships for students of color. Recently, she worked with and supported students in the creation of Margins, a mentorship group for Newhouse students from underrepresented groups. She serves as chair of the Newhouse School’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) Committee.
As department chair, Chessher helped shepherd the merger of the magazine program with the newspaper and online journalism program, and helped reshape the curriculum to meet the demands of 21st century journalism through the use of technology, hands-on experiences and professional projects that earn industry recognition.
Chessher brings to the classroom the knowledge and experience of a 20-year career in magazine journalism. In 2016, she was chosen as one of Folio magazine’s Top Women in Media. She worked on the launch of Real Simple, the largest magazine launch in Time Inc. history, and Gusto, a healthy living magazine for Latin American women. She has written for more than a dozen national consumer publications, including Self, Health, Glamour, Allure, Marie Claire, Fitness, Men’s Health and Parents magazines.
Chessher says part of her teaching philosophy is to inspire. “I want the classes I create to nurture and affirm students’ interests and abilities, to provide them with professional-level examples of their work and to bolster their ability to pitch their ideas and embrace criticism and feedback. I want the work we do in the classroom to build students’ confidence and cultivate their editorial instinct and ability while developing a range of skills.”
The Meredith Professorships, one of the highest honors at Syracuse University, recognize and reward excellence in teaching at all levels in a way that is seen as significant by faculty members, students and the public at large. Chessher is the fourth Meredith Professor in Newhouse School history; previous recipients are Barbara Croll Fought (2013), Sharon Hollenback (2008) and William Glavin (1995), one of the first two Meredith Professors and Chessher’s mentor.
After earning master’s and doctoral degrees from the Newhouse School, Hedges worked in the industry and academe for six years before returning to Newhouse in 2017 as the inaugural director of the school’s online master’s degree program.
Her experience with online instruction became a major asset to the school last spring, as faculty worked to shift to this model in the wake of the pandemic. During the summer, Hedges worked with other faculty members on a subcommittee to present best practices and advice for teaching in a hybrid format. She helped overhaul the Newhouse School’s flagship COM 107 course through the creation of course modules accessible through Blackboard and by revising the grading rubric. “She kept morale up as COVID locked us down, and I am so grateful that she brought her best to every class,” said one student.
“She was a real leader in helping her colleagues throughout the Newhouse School prepare for the most unusual semester of our lives,” says communications department chair Brad Gorham. “And in the hybrid classroom, she seamlessly bounced back and forth between the in-person students and the ones on Zoom, and masterfully kept them all engaged and enthralled.”
“Carolyn’s efforts in the classroom are deserving of this University-wide recognition,” says Lodato. “She is part of a cohort of emerging faculty scholars and practitioners who are positioning the Newhouse School for decades of success as the nation’s premiere communications school.”
Liked and respected by students, Hedges consistently garners above-mean scores on student evaluations. “The purpose of education is to provide students the opportunity to become more informed and engaged with the world around them,” she says. “My classroom—whether in person or virtual—is a place of vibrant discussion and inclusivity… it is essential that the classroom is a space where students can feel heard, challenged and open to new ideas.”
The Teaching Recognition Awards Program is sponsored by the Meredith Professors to benefit non-tenured faculty members. Its specific goals are to recognize excellence in teaching and to encourage a culture of collegial mentoring among faculty members.